by Central Staff
If a follower of the Grateful Dead is known as a “deadhead,” it stands to reason that a “chilihead” is someone who follows a pepper … or in the case of Joe Wetherington, all things pepper.
Chili Heads is the name of Joe’s new store, located on Rainbow Blvd. in Salida, which opened in late 2013, and specializes in hot sauces and salsas, as well as bulk trail mixes, bulk candies, jams, jellies and barbecue sauces.
Customers are greeted by row after row of colorfully packaged products, bearing such labels as: Melinda’s Original Scorpion Pepper Sauce, Overkill Caribbean Lime Hot Sauce and Scotty B’s Sweet Bacon Jalapeño Sauce. Chili Heads even produces its own in-house sauce, Smoked Mountain Daddy Hot Sauce, a smoke-flavored condiment made from a variety of spices and at least four different peppers pods, including Morita chipotle pods and Trinidad scorpion pods. This is not a sauce to be taken lightly (or in large quantities, if you want to maintain your taste buds).
Joe, who says he is a “closet Deadhead” chose the name and label art, describing it as “a play on words that describes a smoked mountain hiker who’s nothing but bones and he gets to enjoy his food at the end of the day with some smokey hot sauce that is delicious.”
Joe was born in the Appalachian mountains of Virginia.His family moved to Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where he gained an even greater appreciation for the mountains. After graduating from the University of Nevada, he joined the Army and spent 27 months in Iraq. After his discharge, he hoped to open a video game business in Virginia, but this was in 2008, and his small amount of savings was tied to the stock market; the banks backed out of any loan commitments so he went back to work as a civilian working for the military, saving up enough money to start a business without the help of a bank. “I basically came up with a business plan, quit my job and drove until I found Salida. The family joined me shortly after that.” he said.
“Salida is a unique place in the world, ” said Joe when asked why he choose to open his shop there. “We have so many creative small businesses in the downtown area and on Highway 50. Salida is such a refreshing, industrious place where a population picked itself up by the bootstraps from the old mining and railroading town days and adapted into a place that is great. It’s not a typical corporate place, with cookie-cutter shopping malls and chain stores, and is a great small town and place to raise a family.”
Joe says hot sauce is one of the 10 fastest growing industries in the U.S. and, according to international research company IBISWorld, hot sauce production is growing even faster than green building. His roots as a fan of chili sauces go deep. In fact, when stationed at a small firebase in Afghanistan, he contacted several small hot sauce companies about stocking the chow halls there. One company in particular, Heartbreaking Dawns, was a big contributor to the armed forces back then. “Their gourmet hot sauces can do wonders for reconstituted eggs and bacon,” he said.
Joe claims Chili Heads carries the hottest sauces in the world, and he occasionally posts videos of people eating extremely hot peppers on his Facebook page. He’s also hosted a ghost pepper eating contest on the premises. But, by far the hottest product he carries is Da’ Bomb Final Answer, rated 1.5 million units on the Scoville heat scale for chili peppers (there is such an index).
“It’s funny,” Joe said, “most of the sales of these extreme hot sauces are people buying them for someone else who they say can eat anything hot.”
Joe provides customers generous samples of his products served on chips and hopes to expand the in-house products by growing his own hot peppers, including a very hot African variety with citrus undertones, the fatalli. He admits to having taken a risk to open his shop in a smaller market like Salida but hopes to “always be true to our brand image as a small mountain community store.”
Truck on down to Chili Heads to say hi to Joe and sample his amazing variety of sauces.
112 W. Rainbow Blvd. (U.S. Hwy 50), Salida, 719-207-9700, www.chiliheads.biz, facebook.com/chiliheadssalida